Jonathan Lekkerimäki has great offensive skills but needs a lot of development: CanucksArmy prospect rankings #2
Photo credit:© Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
By Faber1 month ago
When it comes to draft-plus-one seasons for first-round picks, things could not have gone much worse for Jonathan Lekkerimäki.
After the draft, Lekkerimäki went to the World Juniors and put up just three assists in seven games. He followed that up with a season in the Allsvenskan where his team was demoted from the SHL and put up three goals and six assists in 29 games. In November, Lekkerimäki suffered a concussion and returned from injury just before his second World Junior Championship of the year — where he put up one goal and three assists in seven games at the WJC.
Then, most recently, Lekkerimäki suffered a foot injury after crashing into the boards during practice. The result of that foot injury is that Lekkerimäki’s 2022-23 season is over.
When you throw in having mono back in March and not being able to work out for over two months as a result — it couldn’t have gone much worse for Lekkerimäki.
But still, the kid has confidence that he can turn it around and get back to being a top-end scorer.
We put the onus on the next step of his development on the Canucks. The NHL team that drafted him and wants him to become an NHLer needs to get involved even more than they were this past season. Because drafting a player is just step one down the long road of getting an 18-year-old to one day play in the NHL. Lekkerimäki was left in Sweden this past season in a place where he was comfortable and with an organization that makes him feel at home. Being comfortable with your surroundings is obviously very important for an 18-year-old prospect, but we just saw a year in which the step back had to be an uncomfortable feeling for Lekkerimäki. He had high expectations for himself this year and likely didn’t live up to what he projected for himself.
The Canucks and Lekkerimäki now have a big decision on their hands for what’s next in the coming year.
Lekkerimäki’s CHL rights were released by the Vancouver Giants this year and that means that he will be eligible for the CHL import draft this summer. Going to either the WHL, QMJHL, or OHL should be seriously considered for Lekkerimäki’s 2023-24 season.
Getting a chance to be a dominating force who puts up a boatload of points should be a big boost for the kid’s confidence and it’s clear that Lekkerimäki has the skill to shine in the CHL level. Those are also very physical leagues and are a step closer to playing in the NHL or AHL.
The other option is the AHL. And it’s a very interesting one.
We’ve seen Danila Klimovich come over as a teenager and struggle in his rookie season, but find success and more importantly, develop plenty during his second season in North America.
Bringing Lekkerimäki over to the AHL is a tough ask for the actual play on the ice as the AHL is a better league than the Allsvenskan, but the development team would be strong around him with the Sedins, Mackenzie Braid (skating coach), Yogi Švejkovský (skills coach), and Jeremy Colliton (AHL head coach).
In the end, it’s still Lekkerimäki’s decision but he is now armed with the information that the Allsvenskan is not as much of a slam dunk league for him to develop. He was given power play time, good linemates, and first-line minutes, but through it all, he still struggled to score and develop.
A change of scenery would be good for the kid.
But ultimately, it’s still up to him to decide where he will play next season.
And it’s a big decision.
We have Lekkerimäki at number two on our rankings because of the potential. He could end up being a top-six winger who is a big power play contributor or he could be a prospect who never lives up to this draft selection. Time will tell but we still believe in the potential. That’s why we have Lekkerimäki at number two on our rankings.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki is a 5’11”, 18-year-old winger who typically plays right-wing but on rare occasions, can play the left-wing. He has been a part of the Djurgårdens organization for the past four years and scored well throughout his time in Swedish junior hockey. As we mentioned earlier, Lekkerimäki scored three goals and added six assists in 29 Allsvenskan games this season, and his season is now over due to a foot injury that will keep him out for eight weeks.
Even through his tough 2022 year, Lekkerimäki played in two WJCs and is all but a lock to make next year’s roster. When we spoke with Lekkerimäki about playing in the World Juniors on home soil, he mentioned that now that he has two WJCs under his belt, he is ready to, “be the guy” for Sweden at the upcoming World Juniors.
The good parts of Lekkerimäki’s game are at home in the offensive zone and more specifically, on the power play. He sees the ice extremely well in a stationary offence position. When he is set up on the left half-wall, he is effective as both a shooter and a passer. Lekkerimäki has a strong one-timer and the excitement level there should be high because he still has a lot of room to grow and gain muscle to make his shot even better.
As a skater, Lekkerimäki gets around the ice with an above-average level of pace in the Allsvenskan. When he is skating in during a rush up ice, he has the speed to make any rush dangerous but the problem is that those situations only presented themselves once or twice a game and the conversion rate was not high on the low-level scoring chances.
Our worries with Lekkerimäki begin with how he attacks the net at even-strength.
Lekkerimäki has to have something click in how he views attacking the high-danger areas and be willing to take a bump to get a goal. Lekkerimäki is one of the players who needs a push toward the net and the hope is that someone on the Canucks development staff can get it into his head that he needs to be a much more aggressive attacker to find open ice in the offensive zone and be proactive instead of reactive to the puck. Once he can find the open space and do it consistently, his shot is good enough to score a lot of goals. The problem is not the skill, it’s the process of getting to moments where he can show off that skill.
The biggest thing moving forward is how he develops. We know that it’s too early to write off Lekkerimäki as a prospect and one thing we need to remember is that first-round picks will get many more opportunities than those selected outside of the first round. Lekkerimäki will get a different opportunity in his 2023-24 season and he needs to take a big step from what he did this year. Something needs to change in his game and that’s why we think a change of scenery will be difficult for his comfort level, but will ultimately benefit him on his path to the NHL.
There shouldn’t be an expectation for Lekkerimäki to be in the NHL for the 2023-24 season and if he stays in Sweden or goes to a team in the CHL, we would doubt that he gets into the NHL during the 2024-25 season, too.
A realistic expectation is that Lekkerimäki will get a chance for some NHL games in the 2025-26 season. He should be in North America for the 2024-25 season but our thought process is getting him to adjust to North American pro hockey with a season in the AHL down the road in Abbotsford.
With Lekkerimäki, there are just so many questions that need to be answered about his future over the next handful of months. The decision made by the combination of his Allsvenskan team, the Canucks, as well as Lekkerimäki’s opinion, will set the table for his development and we won’t know what to expect until he takes the ice for the 2023-24 season. That could be in the WHL, AHL, OHL, QMJHL, Allsvenskan or even the SHL. The possibilities are basically endless for where Lekkerimäki could play next season and the decision will be a tough one.
Don’t write this kid off just yet. The potential is still there — it was just not shown this past season. A lot of setbacks made it very difficult for the 18-year-old to develop and because of what happened over the past 12 months, there’s a lot more pressure on what’s to come in the upcoming year.
We will surely be following along and holding on to the hope that the Canucks will one day have an NHLer from their 2022 first-round pick.
This concludes our second-ranked prospect report. We will be back tomorrow as we look at who comes in at number one on our rankings!
- Jonathan Lekkerimäki
- Arturs Silovs – G
- Danila Klimovich – RW
- Lucas Forsell – RW
- Aidan McDonough – LW
- Linus Karlsson – RW
- Filip Johansson – RD
- Jacob Truscott – LD
- Arshdeep Bains – LW
Honourable Mentions: Aku Koskenvuo, Joni Jurmo, Connor Lockhart, and Kirill Kudryavtsev.
By the way, Aatu Räty will get his report as well, it’s just going to be a little bit more time as I’ve got to crush a lot of video and talk to some people more about him. He is going to be ranked at zero on our rankings because it’s hard to just throw him into the rankings without more viewings and an understanding of where Räty is at with his development toward becoming an NHLer.
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